In Minneapolis, an armed patrol group tries to keep the peace

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As protests escalated in suburban Minneapolis, where a policeman shot Daunte Wright, a group of black men joined the crowd with the intention of keeping the peace and preventing the protests from escalating. in violence.

Hundreds of people have gathered outside the closely guarded Brooklyn Center Police Station every night since Sunday when former officer Kim Potter, who is white, shot the 20-year-old black motorist during a traffic stop. Despite the mayor’s calls for law enforcement and protesters to reduce their tactics, the nights often ended with objects being thrown, tear gas and arrests.

Black men on the edge of the crowd wear yellow patches on protective vests that identify them as members of the Minnesota Freedom Fighters, a group formed to provide security in northern Minneapolis neighborhoods during the unrest following the death by George Floyd last year.

They don’t hesitate to throw out a hard-hitting image – the group’s Facebook page features members posing with assault-type weapons and describes themselves as an “elite security unit” – but on Friday the Freedom Fighters appeared unarmed. and have stated that they intend to do so. only to encourage peaceful protests.

As several people began to shake a fence protecting the Brooklyn Center Police Department, the Freedom Fighters communicated through walkie-talkies. They refused to say how many are in their group.

In recent nights, freedom fighters have moved through the forming crowd, wearing bulletproof vests and dark clothing, walking past protesters waving umbrellas to create a separation along a security fence at double layer.

Their passive tactics aim to defuse the tension, preventing agitators from pushing forward and provoking law enforcement officers to attention with pepper sponge and less lethal grenade launchers at hand.

“We can keep the peace,” said Tyrone Hartwell, a 36-year-old former US Navy who belongs to the group. “There is always someone in the group who wants to incite something,” adding that throwing objects at the police distracts from their calls for justice and oozes the energy of the movement.

Minneapolis is set to simultaneously watch the trial of former cop Derek Chauvin in Floyd’s death and reeling from Wright’s shooting. In the midst of this, Hartwell said freedom fighters are trying to advance the race for racial justice, while keeping at bay the violence and destruction that often acutely affects minority communities.

Hartwell pointed to the apartments across from the Brooklyn Center Police Department, where residents complained about tear gas leaking into their homes. They are the ones who suffer when clashes between law enforcement and protesters escalate, he said.

The group was formed after the NAACP appealed for gunmen to organize and protect their neighborhoods from looting and arson following Floyd’s death. Hartwell said groups of whites entered predominantly black communities and harassed children.

As the group reunited, Hartwell bonded and mentored other black men as they took an active role in protecting their neighborhoods. “We care about our community,” he said. “We all have children, so we have to start at home.”

They also formed relationships with the city government and the police department. City spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie said there are several “formal and informal relationships” with members of the Freedom Fighters, but that she does not fund or outsource with the organization because it is is an armed group.

However, some protesters said those links mean freedom fighters are acting at the behest of the police and are not aggressive enough to hold them to account.

As the crowds increased on Friday, protesters carrying umbrellas grew emboldened. The chants of “Daunte Wright” and “George Floyd” gave way to insults at the police. A handful of freedom fighters, visibly and vocally angry at the mounting tension, refused to leave at the behest of their comrades. They grabbed the umbrellas, calling for calm and begging strangers to stop the escalations.

Wandering flash-bang cartridges exploded above their heads, scattering onlookers and giving those eager to confront law enforcement to dash into the crash. The freedom fighters disappeared in confusion, unable to prevent the altercation after a peaceful evening of protest descended into chaos.

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